Native Sun News Today: Crow Creek Sioux Tribe files water rights lawsuit

Brandon Sazue serves as chairman of the Crow Creek Sioux Tribe.

Crow Creek Sioux Tribe files suit for water rights
Seeking damages of $200 million
By James Giago Davies
Native Sun News Today Correspondent

RAPID CITY –– Far from striking out impulsively on their own, three-term Crow Creek Tribal Chairman Brandon Sazue says his tribe understands that all area tribes will be impacted by Crow Creek’s $200 million suit against the federal government for Missouri River water rights.

“I want to talk to all the other tribes about the water issue,” Sazue said. “I want all the tribes to weigh in.” Sazue feels that it was time for his tribe, any tribe, to take action: “If not now, when is the time we are going to stand up for our water?”

Officially, the case is Crow Creek Sioux Tribe V.USA, case number 1:16-cv-00760, in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims. Crow Creek hired a legal firm, Nix, Patterson & Roach, out of Austin, Texas, fresh off winning a similar case for the Choctaw and Chickasaw of Oklahoma earlier this year.

Crow Creek alleges that the government has “completely abdicated” fiduciary trust responsibilities as defined by Winter’s v. United States, a landmark 1908 U.S. Supreme Court decision regarding tribal water rights. The tribe feels its water rights have been “squandered…in favor of non-lndian use, reclamation, urban development and consumption,” the complaint said. “Defendant's policies and practices ignore plaintiff’s Winter’s reserved water rights. Defendant has failed to appropriately manage and protect plaintiff’s water rights, and has never attempted to even quantity or render an accounting as to those rights.”

Winter’s established that Indian reservations were created with the intention of self-sufficiency, that the land could have no value without the water, when the likely purpose of tribal use of the land was agriculture. The determining phrase in the ruling was, “the reservation of water goes along with the reservation of the land.”

The government does not respond specifically to pending cases, so their rationale for why they have not compensated the Crow Creek Tribe for water appropriated is subject too much speculation.

The eastern United States is under the Riparian System for controlling water rights. Their water is relatively plentiful so under the Riparian system if your land borders the water you are entitled to use it. However, water is much scarcer in the American West, and so another system is applied to water rights here, the Appropriative System. Under this system waters rights go to the person or party that can establish they first put the water to beneficial use. After establishing such claim, the person or parties do not have to continuously put water to good use, and that water reservation is implied by the very formation of an Indian reservation.

Read the rest of the story on the Native Sun News Today website: Crow Creek Sioux Tribe files suit for water rights

(James Giago Davies can be reached at

Copyright permission Native Sun News

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